As usual last night, I was sitting in the lobby of Building One of our apartment building at Dwell Nona Place when a new person joined our gathering. Carlo quickly became a new friend. There was a lot in common experience in our history to chat about, particularly a link to my childhood in Saudi Arabia.
The most important common denominator was we both grew up in Saudi Arabia. I could not believe it. Carlo was the son of a Diplomat living in Riyadh; I lived in Ras Tanura and Dhahran. Although Carlo did not live in an Arabian American Oil Company (Aramco) compound, he said: “I enjoyed going out on the streets in Riyadh.” Carlo understood the Saudi experience.
A link to my childhood in Saudi Arabia
Clearly, Carlo enjoyed interacting with the community. He recounted how he often told his father one thing so he could do something else in Riyadh. He told me that it was so much fun being free to get out and doing whatever he wanted to do. The key was staying under the radar. Even inside the Aramco compound when “I wanted to do anything that wasn’t a planned event or at a planned location, I had to be smart enough to fly under the radar.”
We both feel the experience of growing up in Saudi Arabia during the period we did (the early 1960s to early 1980s) was the best opportunity of our lives. Carlo said, “He is grateful his parents were able to give him the experience in Saudi Arabia.” I told him that I had expressed the exact sentiment to many people. He was a link to my childhood in Saudi Arabia
Education in Saudi Arabia
Life was not too much different for Carlo in Riyadh. He attended an American Preparatory School that was offered at the Embassy. He was able to play sports there as well. His family simply decided to live outside the embassy.
Like Aramco, his preparatory school only provided education through the ninth grade. At that point, all non-Saudi students in the country went away to boarding school or alternatively stayed with family in their country of origin. I went to boarding school in Switzerland, and Carlo went to Beirut.
The Third Culture Kid
Carlo did tell me that when he left Saudi Arabia, he missed it. He felt compelled to return and found a job there. He left a second time but returned again. The pull of the desert and culture was just too strong to stay away.
It sounds like a case of Third Culture Kid Syndrome to me. Growing up in Saudi Arabia or another foreign country is a wonderful experience. The culture gets engrained into your DNA. It isn’t something you can take a shower and wash off. When you leave, you constantly feel a pullback to something lost.
In my case, I didn’t realize for years that the pull or the home that I was looking for was Saudi Arabia. Unfortunately, it is a home that is hard for me to go back to, without jumping through hoops or making decisions I don’t want to make. If I was a man, I could go back and work very easily. Today I was chatting with Renee who is also a friend who grew up in Saudi. She felt the same pull. She expressed the same frustration.
Now, I have an apartment in Orlando, Florida that my granddaughter says looks like a Middle East museum. I have all the treasures that my parents carried around the world here with me. They help me feel more at home and comfortable.
The beginning of the six-day war?
It warmed my heart to talk with Carlo. Many old memories were brought to the surface. One memory that doesn’t come up much rose to the surface. He asked me, “Do you remember where you were at the beginning of the six-day war?” I looked at him and chuckled because I remember pointedly. We were in Ras Tanura. Essential personnel had to stay and “generally” families were to evacuate. There was a serious discussion in my household about “evacuation” or “staying.” We stayed. That is another story. Talking to Carlos really made me feel like I was linked to my home.